Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Verdict in Perugia: The Case Against Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito (Epilogue, Part Two)

Monday, October 3rd, 2011:


That was the simple and short verdict rendered by the appeal court. (That, and the conviction of Amanda Knox for defamation of the police; a sentence already served, given her four years or so in custody).

Acquittal, then, for the murder of Meredith Kercher. Acquittal for both Amanda and Raffaele.


Well, we don’t yet know. We’ll have to wait a while (just as we did in the original trial), for the judge to offer the court’s reasoning.

In the meantime, though, there are a few remarks to be made.

Firstly, the appeal court obviously dismissed the DNA evidence with regard to the kitchen knife and the bra clasp. This was not unexpected, given the fact that the experts appointed by the court urged to do just that.

What is, however, less clear, is what the appeal court may have decided next. What did it think of the infamous break-in (which was, according to the prosecution, clearly staged)? What were the court’s thoughts on the forensic evidence found in the small bathroom and in the corridor (the mixed DNA and/or blood stains; the bloody footprint on the bathroom mat; the bloody shoeprints leading to the exit), which, taken together, seem to indicate that more than a single perpetrator had been involved? What of the wounds on Meredith’s body, which again would point to multiple attackers? What of Amanda’s (and, to a lesser extent, Raffaele’s) statements, which were contradictory and seemed to implicate at least Amanda’s involvement?

There are, basically, two ways of looking at this case. The first is to look primarily at the (forensic) evidence; to consider it carefully and then to decide whether or not that evidence is, in and of itself, sufficient for a conviction (which means that the evidence must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt). Taken this way, once the DNA evidence with regard to the knife and the bra clasp is dismissed, it is relatively easy to conclude that an acquittal is in order. The bra clasp was really the only convincing “hard” - scientific - evidence that tied Raffaele to the crime; without it, surely, he should be aquitted. When it comes to Amanda, the knife is more important; again though, dismiss this evidence and the link between the murder and Amanda becomes tenuous (even if there is rather more evidence available).

The second way of looking at the case is different. It takes a more holistic (and perhaps more reasoned) approach. Who committed the murder? Well, we already know Rudy Guede did; he’s been convicted by three courts and the evidence against him stands. The question then becomes: did Rudy act alone, or did he have accomplices? If he had accomplices, could those have been Amanda and Raffaele? Or could these accomplices have been, perhaps, one or more people hitherto unknown?

Taken this way, the case becomes relatively easy to digest. The idea of Rudy committing the murder with unknown accomplices is, frankly, not to be taken seriously. There’s no evidence, no motivation, no means; there’s nothing in the world to assume this could have been the case. I find it almost impossible to point out how farfetched this notion actually is; it is, truly, grasping at straws.

What we are then left with is the idea of Rudy having committed the murder on his own. Is this possible? Yes, I would assume it is. To believe this theory, however, one must believe that a host of improbabilities was stacked up; one on top of the other. And one would have to believe that all these improbablilities would ultimately account for Rudy perpetrating a crime he in all likelihood never wanted to commit in the first place and yet did not avoid, even though he could readily have done so.

You would, for example, have to accept the fact that Rudy broke into the apartment at an odd time and in a strange manner; that he would have started to ransack Romanelli’s room but then decided to use the bathroom; that Meredith returned right when Rudy was in the bathroom and never noticed the break-in; that Rudy would then have decide to attack Meredith instead of simply leaving the apartment. You would have to believe that somehow, having decided to burgle an empty apartment, he turned into a vicious murderer on a whim and ended up not stealing anything of note. And, as stated above, you would have to accept all this whilst disregarding the simple forensic evidence that more than one person committed the crime.

It’s possible, I’ll grant you. It just seems rather unlikely.


Two further thoughts.

The first: the possibility of an appeal to the Italian Supreme Court. As I understand it, quite a few people who think Amanda and Raffaele are guilty feel that the Supreme Court will set things right. They point to the fact that this court has already ruled in Rudy Guede's case, and, in doing so, stated that the crime was committed not by Rudy alone, but by three people.

For what it’s worth: such a view seems to misrepresent the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Guede case and, indeed, it misrepresents the Supreme Court’s authority. The Supreme Court deals with matters of law, not of fact. Therefore, the Supreme Court never ruled that the murder of Meredith Kercher was perpetrated by three people (let alone that Amanda and Raffele were two of those three); it simply accepted the earlier courts’ factual findings on this matter, as it was obligated to do. I suspect that the appeal court’s reasoning - once it emerges - will be dominated by factual considerations, rather than legal ones; I therefore suspect that the Supreme Court will offer little to solace those who long for Amanda’s and Raffaele’s imprisonment. At best, the Supreme Court may annul the appeal court’s ruling on technical grounds; even then, the case would have to be referred to another (factual) court to be tried again.

Secondly, a more abstract matter.

There is something known as Blackstone’s formula. Or Blackstone’s law, if you will. Generally put, this is how it reads: "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”.

Now, Blackstone lived in the 18th century, when men (and women) were regularly put to death for the most innocuous crimes. His formula seems a bit odd when considered against the backdrop of his time. It seems even odder if one considers that his idea had been around long, long before the Enlightenment: God himself, according to the Bible, was persuaded by Abraham to not destroy an entire city because, amongst its inhabitants, there migt be ten that were “righteous”. And yet God killed everyone in the whole wide world (excluding Noah and his family) when he felt like it.

Nevertheless, throughout all this time, the idea has persisted: it is better to acquit ten quilty people than convict a single innocent man.

It is an abstract notion, as history (and God) has often shown. And yet, I believe in it.

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